By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — A season ago, Jackson’s Conor Plaisance was catching passes from Sam Brown. This year, it is Plaisance throwing the passes — a lot of them.
Plaisance was a wide receiver — and a good one — for the Timberwolves while serving as the backup to Brown in 2011. In fact, before breaking his collarbone in a game against Skyline last season, Plaisance was the leading receiver in Wesco 4A.
But after Brown graduated, it was time for Plaisance to move back to his natural position behind center. Plaisance has been the signal caller for most of his years of football before moving to receiver last season, so the transition back hasn’t been difficult.
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It’s been very successful too.
Jackson won Wesco 4A South, going unbeaten in league play and just over a week ago they defeated Monroe 40-0 to win the Wesco 4A championship. In the process, Plaisance has thrown for 2,278 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“I played quarterback all my years of football leading up to my junior year when I played wide receiver,” Plaisance said. “I knew our offense from playing receiver so it was easy to kind of transition into playing quarterback this year.”
Tonight, the Timberwolves host Tahoma in a quad-district playoff that features two offenses that aren’t afraid to score points.
A lot of the credit for Jackson’s high powered spread offense often goes to head coach Joel Vincent, but as he tells it, much, if not all of the credit should go to offensive coordinator Alex Barashkoff. A former head coach at Ballard High School, Barashkoff has been leading the Timberwolves’ offense for the past five seasons.
“Quite honestly, I sit in those meetings with those offensive guys, but I’m there more just to listen so, as the guy who is supposed to have a big picture of the program, I know and understand what we are doing offensively,” Vincent said. “But I don’t mettle and tell him what to do. He does it all.”
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Vincent, who has been the head coach at Jackson for 15 seasons, ran the power eye offense before Barashkoff’s arrival. The first season Barashkoff was on the staff, he noticed a talented quarterback in Andy Gay that he thought could be utilized in a different way. The spread offense was the answer.
“Because I had a six foot, five (inch) quarterback named Andy Gay that could throw it and he was doing too much handing off,” Barashkoff said. “It just seemed we weren’t utilizing Andy’s skills enough.”
Not only did the Timberwolves have Gay, but they also had a bevy of skill position players that made the spread offense work.
And they have continued to have quarterbacks that can throw it and skill position players with speed for the past five season that have allowed them to continue to run the spread offense and do it with success.
Another reason for the success of the offense is the partnership that Vincent and Barashkoff have with each other.
“Alex and I have a great partnership in the fact that we were friends before we were ever fellow coaches on the same staff,” Vincent said. “We used to catch up, our sons played on the same youth team. Every Saturday in the stands … I would get a rundown of his game and then I’d give him a rundown of my game and then we would bounce questions off of each other. And then when we became coaches on the same staff … it was more like we were partners. Nobody has an ego.”
The first season with Barashkoff as the offensive coordinator, the Timberwolves began the season in the I-formation. At spring camp, he told Vincent that they could start with some simple changes that wouldn’t change the offensive terminology much that would better utilize Gay’s throwing skills. So Vincent went along with the experiment.
“The amazing thing out of it was the first three plays we ran at camp out of the shotgun went for touchdowns,” Barashkoff said.
“I was sold,” Vincent added.
Barashkoff said the benefit of the spread offense isn’t just in the results on the field, he also believes it gets more kids involved.
“In some ways the spread allows a school like this to get more kids exposure to college,” he said. “Because when you run the ball it is typically to one guy. I love (Edmonds-Woodway coach) John Gradwohl because he runs one kid 34 times and it’s been very effective and he’s our main rival. But that’s one kid, where here we get four kids involved and if we get a good running game going we actually get five.
“I think it involved a lot more people. I think more parents are happy because, you know, more kids are involved. It’s more fun to coach too.”
It isn’t uncommon for the Timberwolves to throw the ball 50 times in a game, many of those are vertical passes down the field, but often times just as many are bubble screens to a receiver that act almost as a running play.
“It’s an extended handoff if that’s what you want to call it,” Vincent said.
And the players, especially the quarterback and the skill position players, seem to love it.
“It’s great,” Plaisance said. “It’s a quarterback’s dream to lead the spread offense and to be able to throw almost every play. And with our receivers too, we definitely have the best receivers in Wesco. They are great targets to throw too.”
One of those receivers is Trey Robinson, who has been one of Plaisance’s favorite targets throughout the season. Robinson leads the Timberwolves in receiving with 52 catches for 914 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Having a great offensive line and a good quarterback, I feel comfortable around them,” Robinson said. “It’s nice. I trust my other players. I’m pretty sure we will do the right thing.”
The Timberwolves have had the quarterbacks to run the spread with success and Barashkoff said they have another one coming up after Plaisance in Alex Cheesman. A sophomore currently, Cheesman is likely to be the starter for the next two seasons after Plaisance graduates at the end of the school year.
Barashkoff added that if the day comes where they don’t have a quarterback that can throw like the ones they have had for the past five seasons, they won’t hesitate to make a change.
“The funniest thing is if we have a quarterback that can’t throw, we could be a wing-T team or an ‘I’ team just like that,” he said.
“We are going to run whatever system best matches our kids,” said Vincent.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackson vs. Tahoma
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: Everett Memorial Stadium
Records: Tahoma (5-3 SPSL 4A North, 5-4 overall). Jackson (5-0 Wesco 4A South, 8-1 overall)
Radio: KRKO (1380 AM)
Rest of tonight’s playoff schedule
• Edmonds-Woodway vs. Bellarmine Prep at Mount Tahoma Stadium, 7 p.m.
• Meadowdale vs. Eastside Catholic, 7 p.m.
• Mountlake Terrace vs. Kennedy at Highline Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
• Mountain View at Marysville Pilchuck, 7 p.m.
• Kentlake at Lake Stevens, 7 p.m.